Saturday, December 14, 2013

today's reminder that women are supposed to feel fat and unsexy so that we can spam you successfully

So, it's just a normal day. My Facebook feed is full of status updates about snow and babies and complaints about grading. Facebook is predictable like that. And then there was this.



Why, Facebook? What is it about me that suggested to your algorithms that I needed an ad from some outfit called "Be Sexy" that wants to let me know that someone who can't spell success wants me to click on some spammy little url because "Lisa from Oregon" lost 60 lbs?

OH RIGHT. I'm a woman.

Just today's little technomicroaggressive reminder that, since I'm female, I probably feel bad about myself because I think I'm fat and unsexy, and might even feel bad enough about it that I might click on some spammy little website that will take advantage of me in other ways.

So, you know, when I report this for being sexist spam targeted at women, it'd be nice if the response wasn't "this doesn't violate our community standards."

Yeah, I know that sexist crap doesn't violate community standards. SUGGESTION: LET'S UPDATE OUR COMMUNITY STANDARDS.

Because I'm not lowering mine.




Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Traditional Christmas Repost: theological reflections on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"

theological reflections on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"

One of my favorite perennial Christmas classics is that edition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerwhere Burl Ives narrates as Sam the Talking Snowman and sings. You know, the one where the little figurines move around jerkily but endearingly. (For some interesting info about this classic, click here.)

My favorite character in this thing is Hermey, the Elf who wants to be a dentist. Hermey reveals this sick unnatural ambition in a conversation with the Elf Boss, who lectures him threateningly:

Hermey, miserably: Not happy in my work, I guess.
Head Elf: WHAT??!
Hermey: I just don't like to make toys.
Head Elf: Oh well if that's all...WHAT??!! You don't like to make toys?!
Hermey: No.
Head Elf, to others: Hermey doen't like to make toys!
Others: (repeat it down down the line) and in chorus: Shame on you!
Head Elf: Do you mind telling me what you DO wanna do?
Hermey: Well sir, someday, I'd like to be...a dentist.
Head Elf: A DENTIST? Good grief!
Hermey: We need one up here...I've been studying it, it's fascinating, you've no idea, molars and bicuspids and incisors--
Head Elf: Now, listen, you. You're an elf, and elves make toys. Now get to work!

The ontology undergirding the Head Elf's reprimand of Hermey leaves no room for consideration of an elf who deviates from his "nature" by not liking to make toys. It's simply inconceivable. Hermey's attempt to "fit in" is stymied when, engrossed in the task of providing teeth for some dolls, he misses elf practice and suffers another confrontation with the Head Elf, which concludes with the Head Elf's vicious assertion, "You'll NEVER fit in!" Miserable, Hermey jumps out the window in self-imposed exile, his only option to be true to himself.

Rudolph's situation is parallel. Born with the disgusting congenital deformity of a red glowing nose, his parents are horrified (even his own mother can only weakly offer, "we'll have to overlook it," while his father goes so far as to actually hide it by daubing mud on his son's face.) Later, at the "reindeer games," Rudolph outshines the other reindeer in skill, but when his prosthesis falls off, everyone gasps and his erstwhile playmates mock and shun. The authority figures echo this attitude: the Coach gathers everyone up and leads them away, saying loudly, "From now on, we won't let Rudolph join in any of our reindeer games!"

Santa's role throughout most of the cartoon is to legitimize the prejudices against the misfits already evident in lesser members of the Christmastown community. When Santa visits the newly birthed Rudolph, his unthinking prejudice becomes plain when he comments that Rudoplh had better grow out of it if he ever wants to be on his team of flying reindeer. Santa's behavior at the scene of the reindeer games is even more disturbing; like his pronouncement at Rudolph's birth, he says, "What a pity; he had a nice takeoff, too." For Santa, Rudolph's skill is less important than his nose, an arbitrary physical attribute. A distant and authoritarian figure, Santa is unaware of Hermey's plight (apparently the welfare of elves is beneath his notice) and condemning of Rudolph's gall in considering himself a reindeer of the same worth and dignity as the others.

Rudolph and Hermey get together, and a few lines of their "misfit theme song" are revealing:

"We're a couple of misfits, we're a couple of misfits--
What's the matter with misfits?
That's where we fit in.

We may be different from the rest...
But who decides the test
of what is really best?"

In "Christmastown," those who decide "the test of what is really best" seem to be the tyrannical and thoughtless majority, reinforced by authoritarian sanction by Santa, the pseudo-benevolent despot. Those who question the status quo--those who are already marginalized--are mocked, punished, and driven out of the community.

Over the years it's become apparent to me that this simple children's cartoon contains some real subversive elements: Hermey's misfit-ness is the result of apparent "choice," but the kind of choice where the alternatives are to be true or false to oneself. Rudolph's misfit-ness is the result of birth rather than choice. Change "dentist" to "gay" and "red nose" to "black skin." Now the subversive message is clear: Santa is racist, the Head Elf and the elf community is homophobic, and "Christmastown" is really "Whiteytown."

Given this subtext, the change of heart on the parts of Santa and the Head Elf at the end are more than just the formulaic ending to a well-known Christmas fable. Although it takes a prodigious feat of community service on both Hermey's and Rudolph's parts (each requiring skills peculiar to their misfit-ness) to bring the authorities and the community to repentance, repentance is indeed the note sounded in the conclusion. Everyone, including Santa, apologizes to the misfits. And in the end, difference is valorized rather than exiled.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Mama's Rules for Dressing Well

#feministheels
"One might say that the measure of women's liberation is any culture is at least partly indicated by whether or not they wear shoes that allow them to walk freely!" Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk, 176.

One might, but one probably ought not to go much beyond that, and certainly shouldn't suggest that a feminist in high heels is like Dawkins in a rosary.

I have some basic rules for dress for myself and my daughters, and they go pretty much like this:

1) Anything you wear shouldn't hurt any part of your body.
2) What you wear should keep you warm (or cool) enough.
3) What you wear should let you do what you plan to do in it (that is, be functional and appropriate to the specific occasion).
4) You should feel good about what you're wearing.

These rules are a work in progress. As my bright-shining brilliant, beautiful oldest continues to, well, get older (dang it!) I keep revisiting these basic guidelines--gauging whether or not she is following them…and whether I am, too. She's great at it--as, I think, most kids would be, if we encouraged them to think of dress and clothing in these ways. Me, not so much; I have some unlearning to do, still, especially about #4. (Not too long ago, I recall, I went on a brief FB rant about the evils of pleated pants, because I wasn't #4ing very well that day.)

But I'm getting better, and it's pretty awesome to have a 7-year-old role model to learn from.

But none of these rules mean I won't be wearing my incredible hand-knitted (yes: this is me, bragging about my knitting skillz) lace stockings and vintage heels.

The last time I put on a pair of heels for a fancy dinner out, my husband teased me about it. Then Clare, hypocrisy radar bleeping, joined in: "you shouldn't be wearing ouchie shoes!"

Yes, I get it. I worked for a few years in an orthopedic shoe store and I am a proponent of comfy shoes. I tell people all the time that putting the investment in for really good shoes is worth it. And day in, day out, I still wear the shoes that I bought years ago on employee discount from my fabulous boss at the Princeton Foot Solutions store (hi Linda! muah!).

I don't put anything on that hurts. If I can't walk in it or dance in it, what's the point? You can't look fancy or feel fabulous if you're hobbling across a room wondering why the hell your table is in the farthest corner.

But most often, I wear heels for a couple hours at a time in a context where there's more sitting than walking, and when the point is to be extravagantly, flagrantly fabulous. Maybe even (gasp!) sexy…which for me, like a lot of women brought up in the kind of purity/modesty culture of American conservative Christianity, is a reclamation of our bodies and their goodness.

My anniversary comes up in a few days and you can bet I'll be rocking some #feministheels and showing my daughter that Mama can be fancy as well as sensible, sexy as well as grubby, fun as well as hardworking. And that when it comes to Dressing Well, it's about feeling good in your body, and accomplishing what you set out to accomplish--be that dazzling your students with a philosophy lecture or dazzling your spouse at an anniversary dinner.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

today's new mommy song

Oooooooh,
manufactured crises are the best ones to have
that's why we make them up all the time

You lost the pencil you just had in your hand?
Well that's a manufactured crisis right there!

Cooooooooon--
gratulations because manufactured crises are the best ones to have
that's why we make them up all the time

You still need a pencil to do your homework?
Well there's lots of pencils in this house
When you manufacture problems you can make solutions too
Go look for a pencil right now!

Oooooooooh.\,
manufactured crises are the best ones to have
because we can manufacture fixes for them too.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sexism and schism: a response to Tony Jones

Tony's recent post on Theoblogy has--as Tony's posts often do--kicked off a discussion that free ranges across denominational lines and ideologies. Links to and discussions of It's Time for a Schism appeared in multiple places in my information pipeline, expected (my twitter feed, Facebook newsfeed) and unexpected (in an online support group I participate in, on a discussion thread on a Church of Christ preacher's blog series I'm following). It's these unexpected places that prompt me to respond here because, clearly, Tony's post has contributed to furthering the conversation  about gender justice in Churches of Christ, a conversation I'm very much invested in.

My first response to Tony's post can be found here on Theoblogy, but I'll repost my comment here as well:



hi Tony,
I appreciate your passion on this. As a woman, a theologian, and life long CofCer (that's Churcha-Christer, verbalized) I want to affirm your anger and the need for justice. And, also to defend why I "stay" within a church denomination that (typically) refuses not only to allow women into leadership and (paid) ministry positions, but to allow women's voices to be heard and women's bodies to occupy space "up front" during corporate worship.
First I want to say that I don't counsel other people to do what I'm attempting to do. The "stay or go" question is vexing and complicated and there's no one size fits all answer, I think. But I don't encourage people to stay in a church environment that has become toxic to them (my husband left years ago and is now happy being an Episcopal priest).
So, since I don't counsel other people to stay put as a more righteous or effective response to this injustice, why do I? Because I can, and because at the moment I think I can do more good by staying rather than leaving. It's a unique possibility given my location and resources and education and network, and so I'm doing my best to utilize these things well. 
But I engage the work, not because I want to reform the institution or change the Church of Christ, per se. I engage in this work because I care deeply about the women sitting in the pews for whom leaving is still an unimaginable possibility, and the little girls who grow up hearing things that make them feel like, and I quote, "Jesus only died for the boys." There are so many of them. And for those who find the courage to leave, hallelujah: be free in Christ to serve and glorify God with all that you are. For those who are still stuck, I'll stick around.
For anyone who's connected with the CofC and is interested in working toward gender justice in the CofC, gal328.org is still around and thriving. :)



    I want to be clear about what I affirm, and what I challenge, about Tony's call for schism as I understand it (and in this phrasing I acknowledge that of course I may be interpreting some things wrong, and welcome dialogue on any errors as this is always helpful). 

    First, Tony's post is being heard by at least some in Churches of Christ who may be unaware that the kind of schism he calls for--a principled individual severance with an oppressive system--has been happening in our churches over this very issue over the last few decades, in increasing numbers. People have left over what we have learned to label "women's roles in the church," and are continuing to leave. Many are of course women gifted for forms of service and ministry restricted to them; many are those who leave in solidarity with those women. But typically, this schism has been a slow, diachronic, quiet one, more of an exodus of people who aren't interested in making it hard for those they leave behind, whom they love as brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in Christ. They leave as Ursula K. LeGuin describes those who walk away from Omelas: one day, they simply go.

    And so it's easy for those who aren't looking for the missing ones to continue without ever realizing who is missing. Part of what we in Churches of Christ need to realize is, then, that these of our number are missing. This is the reason gal328.org hosts a wiki named "Exodus," a collaborative project aimed at shining a spotlight on those who have left and pursued ministry elsewhere. This is a list of people who have courageously moved, like Abraham, from the familiarity of home to the unknown land of Ur on the strength of faith in God alone. They ought not be forgotten.

    I believe Tony's post and the discussion around it may be calling some attention to this, and that is indeed a result for which I am grateful.

    The main thing I find most helpful about Tony's posts on this is that he is issuing a call for effective action. Tony is tired of talking. And here once again I want to affirm, for I am also rather tired of talking. We've been talking a long time, we in the Churches of Christ, and precious little has changed. Talk, after all, is cheap.

    So here is where I return to my first response, and aim to perhaps clarify some of my comment, and also pose a genuine question.

    While validating this call to effective action, I don't think that schism, either in the classic sense or in the individual severance sense, is a strategy for effecting systemic change. 

    This is tricky territory here on the "stay or go" question; it's a question I've been asked many times in friendly and unfriendly ways, and a question ever CofCer concerned with gender justice wrestles with at some point. It's tricky territory because it's hard to hear someone's explanation of the reasons they "stay" without feeling like some judgment is thereby passed on those who "leave." So I want to be clear in stating: I consider those who leave courageous. I know what kind of guts it takes to leave. Many who have "left" are among my private canon of personal saints, and you people know who you are. I praise God for your lives and witness.

    So when I say, again, that leaving is not a strategy for systemic change, that is no judgment on those who have left. It is an observation that Omelas doesn't disappear when those who walk away, walk away.

    So I want to construct a way of staying which is faithful to the call to effective action I hear at the heart of Tony's post, because what we disagree on here is not urgency or necessity or justice but what, in the end, effective action is. Schism leaves unjust systems intact--and untroubled.

    This brings me (finally!) to my question, which is, simply, is it really schism you're calling for? Or is it that, like me, and so very many others, the call is to effective action, and the challenge is to imagine adequate models for it?

    *a technical note: I am blogging via phone while sick in my hotel bed after a very full AAR and I promise to link everything properly later! Apologies in the meantime.

    Thursday, November 07, 2013

    Overheard on the way to NWSA

    First Man: "Did anyone see Stephanie get on the plane?"
    Second Man: "She's not coming. I just got an email saying 'I'm counting on you.'"
    First Man: "She's not COMING? ...I can't BELIEVE her."
    Second Man: "I just got the email."
    First Man: "She is such a FLAKE. She scheduled this meeting and now she's not even here. She is so SCATTERBRAINED. I just can't stand her."
    Third Man with a pic of his toddler as his laptop wallpaper: "I don't really know her at all, so..."
    First Man: "...Wants to be in charge, doesn't want to do any of the work."

    Wednesday, November 06, 2013

    unscientific survey

    A few days ago, I found myself trying to adequately convey to a class of 30 undergrads what I meant by the phrase "unmarked identity" (ostensibly, we were discussing Rawls and his "original position" behind the "veil of ignorance") and why it's problematic.

    So, on the spot, I tried this: "Okay. Girls. Answer this: do you ever walk into a room full of people without being consciously aware of the fact that you are a woman?" A pretty much unanimous "no." Then I asked the boys. "Do you ever enter a room full of people feeling conscious of the fact that you are a man?" Blank stares like the question didn't even make sense. No, of course not.

    This, y'all. This is why "unmarked" equals "privilege."

    a break

    "I need a break…I need a break…I need a break…I need a break…"

    As mantras go, it's not that edifying.

    But these are the words that I found pouring out of me this past weekend. And not just words. I found myself crooning them, like a blues singer, in a melody I've not heard before and that I didn't plan. And it just didn't stop. All the anxiety and exhaustion and inadequacy and anger and longing and sadness flowed into this spontaneous song as I held Z in my arms and she hugged me because she could tell that whatever Mommy was singing, it was sad.

    It was also peaceful and beautiful in a way I've rarely experienced. It was confession and prayer in a way that took me by surprise.

    When it ended, I carried Z into the kitchen to get her the snack she had asked for, the thing that had pushed me over the edge into that surreal moment of prayerful confession, and did what I needed to. No less tired, no less lonely, no less anxious and sad, but less angry.

    I don't know what it all means. But I do know that, whatever that was, it helped. It didn't solve anything and it didn't change anything, but it helped.

    Friday, November 01, 2013

    today

    Today the internet told me,

    "In Genesis, Eve wanted to become equal to God. Thus, that women want to be equal,
    considered the same as men, is to be expected....So God assigning men to teach and to lead in their congregations and in their families is a way to remind women that they are
    human and therefore not above instruction and correction."



    Wednesday, October 30, 2013

    TecnaMonsterFairyTaleHigh and the Future of the Female Body

    In chapter 3 of Cyborg Selves I offer a detailed analysis of the way gender and human sexuality is envisioned in two distinct posthuman discourses. One, of course, is the feminist cyborg discourse begun by Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto," and the other is the analysis of gender and human sexuality offered by James Hughes and George Dvorsky in their Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies white paper entitled, "Postgenderism: Beyond the Gender Binary."

    I won't recap everything here, but suffice to say, I find these two discourses on gender and sexuality to be in opposition to each other in important ways, and the contrasts between the two ultimately rest on their divergent views of the human body, and in this instance, the female body particularly. [If you want to know more, well hey, take that $100 you've got lying around just waiting to be spent and click the link on the sidebar and get yourself a copy of the book! :)]

    One of the assumptions in Hughes and Dvorsky's analysis of transhumanism and gender is that technological interventions on the human body are the ultimate means of addressing the social injustices  surrounding gender. They anticipate a future where, by means of various technologies, people will be able to consciously select certain "gendered" traits, according to personal preference, thus dismantling the "gender binary" that we have (presumably) inherited from our unaltered biology. The vision is one of liberation from that restrictive binary by altering our bodies at will.

    There are a lot of things here to take issue with, from my point of view, but again--read the book.

    What I want to focus on here is a new wrinkle of worry about this approach to gender and biotechnology and the posthuman future, prompted by my latest brush with the rampant sexualization and body distortion and stereotyping and reduction and limitation in children's media and the toy industry.

    This past week Clare asked me to please rethink my ban on Winx Club. The girls at her school play "Winx" at recess, and while she joins in, she always feels a bit lost because she doesn't watch the show and has to figure out who is who and what is happening. I get that. And she was super thoughtful about asking me to rethink, and suggested I watch an episode. And promised that if I did let her watch it she would ignore all the inappropriate stuff (oh how I wish it worked that way). Of course it also turns out that she had been illicitly bingewatching on the iPad after Netflix put temptation right in front of her face. Sigh. #parentfail.

    So, I watched an episode. And it basically made my brain explode and dribble out my ears. It was beyond the horrible I had braced myself for.

    Then I saw the newest toy to come down the corporate pike for my daughter: Fairy Tale High.


    Great! They're like Bratz, only not Bratz because they're, like, fairy-tale-ish. They're like Monster High, only not, 'cuz they're fairy-tale-ish. They're like Winx and _____ and _____ and ______ only not, 'cuz they're fairy tale princesses in their secret life instead of fairies and _____ and ______. Wow! That's what we call OPTIONS!

    Pigtail Pals member Bailey Shoemaker Richards says it:



    I mean, just look at them. You literally cannot tell these things apart.




    What does the above picture have to do with transhumanist aspirations to postgenderism, I bet you're wondering.

    That's great, because I'm about to tell you.

    First, there's the basic question that Melissa Atkins Wardy at Pigtail Pals puts to us, which is, what are our girls (and boys!) learning from these distorted representations of the female body, and limited, frivolous representations of girlhood?

    Yes, that's rhetorical. We know what they're learning, and it is false, and it is harmful.

    My question is, what happens when these internalized false and harmful notions of what girls and women's bodies are supposed to look like collide with the ever-more-inventive technologies we use on those bodies?

    Will we get the transhumanist utopian vision of technologically mediated gender equity, and human bodies that, again via technological mediation, defy the presumed biological gender binary?

    Or will we get women who seek to sculpt their bodies into the distorted representations we've been handing them as the ideal and norm ever since they were born, and men who expect that?

    Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    the smoke alarm epiphany

    I was sitting in the office at home, diligently struggling along on my dissertation, when I started hearing it. A high pitched, annoying, repetitive beep that echoed along the hallway and was eerily hard to pinpoint. And it kept happening. Again. And again. And again.

    Every time it happened, I was shaken out of my compositional reverie, lost focus, and had to recover my train of thought before plunging back into my text.

    I told Brent about it that night and he said, yeah, the smoke alarm probably needs a battery change.

    The next day: beepbeepbeep. Beepbeepbeep. Beepbeepbeep.

    I was hacked. I was mad. I was righteously indignant. I yelled into the otherwise quiet empty house: why didn't he FIX this? doesn't he KNOW I'm trying to work here? Didn't I TELL him I couldn't concentrate with this godforsaken noise? WHY didn't he take care of this for me?!

    Then I realized.

    I can change a battery.

    So I did.

    Monday, October 28, 2013

    dear netflix.

    Dear netflix.com,

    Unless you make it possible for me, as a concerned and responsible parent, to block certain suggested viewing options daughters' personal viewing profiles, I will be discontinuing the use of your service.

    I was under the false impression that setting up profiles would take care of the issue of my daughters potentially encountering inappropriate viewing material.

    But here is a screenshot of the current suggested items for my little girl.


    My daughter loves Daniel Tiger. And Finn the Human Boy and Jake the Magic Dog. And George the monkey. And squeaky voiced Elmo. And the Powah-gulls. And Justin and Squidgy. And Mona the Vampire. And that's great, because she's 2.

    But she does not need tiny-waisted sexy Bratz fairies with anorexic limbs and boyfriends in her life. Or Barbie. Frankly, none of us do. So please, dear netflix.com powers-that-be, stop suggesting to her that she ought to be watching them instead of Daniel Tiger.

    mugga mugga,

    Clare and Zadie's mom

    ***update: I've had two informative chats with the online help at netflix.com, and here's the result. You can exercise some measure of control over this, but it's not intuitive. When you set up profiles there's a box to check or uncheck that says "kids under 12." So, when Brent set up the profiles, he clicked that Clare and Z's were kid profiles by clicking that box. Because that seems easy-peasy and all. However, Netflix actually has four different age-related ratings, Little Kids, Older Kids, Teens, and Adults. You can find that when you go to your account settings, but it doesn't give age ranges and also, if you've already clicked the box on the individual profiles for "kid under 12," it doesn't let you change the parental control setting to "little kid." You have to go unclick the box on the profile, and then it will give you the option to set the profile to "little kid."

    That's the good news.

    The bad news is, despite having rated 100+ kids movies and clicked on "not interested" for Barbie, Winx Club, etc., they remain in full view on both my daughters' profiles in the top category of suggestions, "popular on Netflix." I can't get them to go away. So, Winx Club remains, literally, the first thing my daughter will see on her home page. Presumably it will eventually disappear because she won't be watching it, and it will get replaced with suggestions only from the "little kid" category, but I don't know when that will happen.

    The bigger problem I see in all this is, as a parent, I have no surefire way to block content, and what I do have is non-intuitive and labor-intensive. At 7 Clare is aging out of little kid territory pretty soon. Parental control is not content-based, at least not directly, but age-category based, and someone other than me is making decisions about what content is appropriate for what age--and in general, what content is appropriate, period. Or worse, and more accurately, they're not making any judgments about appropriate content, because that's not really their job--which means that at, as soon as I click "older kids" for Clare, we're in Winx Club territory no matter what. So, fine, that's not actually their job--it's mine, because I'm the parent. But I need a better way to do my job. I can't blame Netflix for the larger issues of structural sexism and the early childhood sexualization of girls that is rampant in media--but given that this is a huge problem, I think a big fat red VETO button for any cartoon that will teach my daughter false and harmful things about her gender and sexuality is necessary.

    loudmouth

    "Mom, is it bad to be a loudmouth?"

    "Nope."

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    spooky crappy unhappy meals.

    I know this is an old, and very familiar complaint. There's all sorts of things wrong with Happy Meals and fast food and the use of free plastic gimmicks to further entice our young ones into addiction, as if french fries (or, as Z calls them, "Fry-days!") weren't by themselves enough.

    And so, first, yeah, a big ol' mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for giving up and feeding my precious ones crap because I'm sick and on my own while my spouse is out late at a Vestry meeting. Tonight we'll eat Vegetable Korma, I promise.

    But honestly. It gets me every single time. The Question: "boy or girl?"

    This time, the plastic gimmicks were Halloween buckets--not a bad idea. The choices were between Star Wars themed Angry Birds buckets and, yep you guessed it, Monster High.

    I never answer the question "boy or girl" with either "boy" or "girl." I tell them which toy I prefer. This unfortunately did not translate well last night. The Question came back: "but, boy or girl?"

    Finally I said, exasperated, "I have two girls who would prefer the Star Wars Angry Birds toys."

    I mean, is there something unclear about saying "give us this one?" Is there some sort of McDonalds policy in place to never deviate from parceling out your plastic gimmicks according to rigid gender stereotypes? Is this why your Question is "boy or girl" and not "which toy would you like?"

    And let's just not even get into the issues of handing my 2- and 7-year-olds Monster High. Really? I mean, really?

    Yes, I know, none of this is at all surprising. And that, friends, is a measure of the dimension of this problem.

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    anthropomorphizing indeed.

    Through the magic of the Internet I came across this fantastic piece today. The part that will explode a tiny piece of your brain (one which I hope you didn't need after all) is this list:


    Reel Girl commenter, Nebbie, keeps a list of male characters in animation who, in the “real” world, would be female: 
    1) Barnyard movie and video game, Back and the Barnyard: male cattle with udders
    2) The Madagascar movies and specials, The Penguins of Madagascar: Joey the male kangaroo with a pouch, male hornets with stings, King Julien the dominant male ring tailed lemur (Only female kangaroos have a pouch, ring tailed lemurs are matriarchal.)
    3)Bee Movie: male worker bees, male bees with stings, Mooseblood the male bloodsucking mosquito (Only female bees, wasps, including hornets, and some ants have a sting because the sting is a modified oviposito)
    4)Turbo: male snails, Burn the one female snail (Garden snails are hermaphrodites)
    5) A Bugs Life, The Ant Bully, and Antz: male worker ants (Worker ants, bees, and wasps are all sterile females, the males are drones and they die soon after they mate with the queen– fertile female– ant, bee, or wasp.)
    6) The Jungle Book: male elephant herd and leader (elephants are matriarchal)
    7) Fantasia: female ostriches with male black and white plumage
    8) Puss in Boots: The Three Diablos: Gonzalo the male tortoiseshell kitten (Most tortoiseshell cats are female. A male cat can only be tortoiseshell if it has Klinefelter’s Syndrome– XXY, usually sterile– has chimerism, or has mosaicism.)
    9) Finding Nemo: Marlin the clownfish stays male after his wife died (Clownfish are protoandrous hermaphrodites; they are born male and the the most dominant male turns female when the dominant female is removed from the group.) 
    What’s so creepy about this is how often what is “natural” is used to justify sexism. 
    I knew about the Nemo thing; but the rest are new to me. I think my favorite is (1). Male cows with udders. If that were intentional, I'd love it. I mean, if we were intentionally teaching our kids the differences between biological embodiments and gender, and calling into question gender stereotypes instead upholding them by reverse-engineering the representations of other animals' bodies to fit within our rigid gender stereotypes, then this would be BRILLIANT! Alas, I doubt the intention was to represent biologically female cows who identify as male.

    When Clare was about 3, we had a conversation in which I utterly failed to convince her that boys have eyelashes. I've never forgotten it. Brent has lovely eyelashes and at one point I said, "Brent, take your glasses off. Clare, go look at your daddy's eyes. See his eyelashes." She did. And it still failed to convince her. Why? You know why. Because every single boy character in every type of media she'd been inundated with her entire little life had no eyelashes, and every single girl character did. Eyelashes=girl was a constant feature of her world, and empirical evidence of Daddy's eyelashes was simply not enough to counter that constant given.

    The good news is, Clare (now 7) is embroiled in a long-standing dispute with a friend at school (a boy) who claimed that girls don't have biceps. Scornfully she replied, "My mom has great big biceps! And just look at my arm! I'm just as strong as YOU! Look at that muscle!"

    Tuesday, September 03, 2013

    hands free.

    It's been two years and some.

    For two years, every task--domestic or academic--has been performed with a baby on my hip or at my breast, or a toddler on the floor (or on my hip or at my breast) interrupting adorably every couple of minutes. I've written blog posts, presentations, class lectures and finished revisions of my book with one hand awkwardly crooked around a nursing child while the laptop on my knees started to overheat. I've cooked dinner one-handed while my arm holding an increasingly heavy child on my hip started to ache because otherwise she'd just sit in the middle of the filthy kitchen floor and wail at me through the whole process. I've washed dishes with Z on my back in the mei tai. I've toted her up and down 2 flights of stairs perched on top of the dirty laundry in the basket.

    I've been frustrated and impatient and grumpy grouchy and longing for this day for a long time.

    Mama is hands free.

    Let's get some stuff done.


    Saturday, August 24, 2013

    Beelzeboob, Booby Traps, and Artificial Wombs

    Beelzeboob

    When I was pregnant with Clare (my first), my husband and I had a conversation that went something like this:
    "Oh, I'm definitely breastfeeding."
    "I'm a little jealous."
    "That you'll have to share them?"
    "No...I kinda wish I could do it, too."
    Just this morning, Clare (now 7), sat next to me on the couch while Zadie (2), was latched on and nursing happily.
    "Hey Zadie. Try sissy's mammies instead!"
    Zadie looks up, still latched, sees the sparkle in Clare's eye, and decides to play along. "Okay!"
    She lets go, bends her head towards Clare's chest, and makes pretend suckling noises, and then looks up and giggles. "Milk! Mmmmm!"
    Apparently, we are all possessed by the spirit of Beelzeboob around here.

    Like any other nursing mom, there are times when I cherish the intimacy and the snuggling, and times when, like now, I wish that I could type out a sentence without having my elbow awkwardly positioned around the opportunistic toddler who believes that anytime I'm seated and still is an invitation to latch on. There's something sweet and also something exhausting and frustrating about being The Only One with the mammies. Sometimes I fantasize about making them detachable, so I could just hand one off to my incredibly devoted nursling--"Here you go kid, enjoy. Just don't lose it." Sometimes I fantasize about a Meet-the-Parents style man-boob harness. Or magic milk-making pills that I could supply to others so they could lactate and we could share in an equal division of labor and an equal dividend of joy. Or that I lived in a commune with my sisters and we could just trade off nursing duty...(that's not too weird, right?)

    There's something similar to this in the way that Karla Erickson analyzes the burdens and blessings of breastfeeding, and the biological reality that only certain bodies lactate. But--as is obvious from my opening paragraphs--my experience of the unequally distributed burdens and blessings of breastfeeding my first did not result in my deciding, as she has, to give up breastfeeding:
    Next time I won’t breastfeed because it sets up a gendered division of who does what early into parenting. It provides an infrastructure for an unequal distribution of the work (and rewards) of parenting.
    It's not that what she describes here isn't true in my experience--it is. And I appreciate her willingness to name it, analyze it, and take action in response. And, there's something fair-minded and noble about being willing to give up the blessings if you can't share them--as well as something honest about wishing the burdens were distributed more equally.

    I just don't think that opting out of breastfeeding is the only possible, or the best, response to the issue.

    Though I think Erickson's absolutely right in noting that "gender is reproduced in intimate spaces," our intimate spaces themselves are constructed within larger determinative contexts, and those contexts matter. If you want to breastfeed but you're not one of those women with the privilege of choosing SAHMing as your temporary or permanent vocation (in other words, most women), then you're faced with a real dilemma--one in which a breast pump is necessary but insufficient in itself to address. And this is, in my opinion, the very worst of all the "booby traps" lying in wait for mothers who choose to breastfeed--far worse than the mixed messages we receive from our health care industry where "breast is best but here's some free formula to take home with you" or all the public scandals of cover-up-or-else-we'll-kick-you-off-our-airplane. I can toss the formula. I can match the modesty police glare for glare. But I can't singlehandedly change the policies and expectations in place that make it impossible to make certain parenting choices and still keep a job.

    What this means is, in short, is that bodies with wombs and lactating breasts are still treated as a deviation from the basic human bodily norm--moreover, a deviation we're unwilling, as a society, to do much to accommodate.

    And this is why, despite the truth of Erickson's observation about the way human bodies become so particularly salient in the process of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, I can't agree that the solution is to "tuck away those breasts and reach for a bottle instead." Again--on an individual level, I find her reasons for this as a personal choice very poignant. But on a systemic level--if we all followed her lead--what would such collective action signify?

    Erickson writes, "sometimes we have to do a runaround our bodies to ensure equity." But I want to ask, why? Why would having a certain sort of body be problematic? And what sort of equity is it, if we have to act like our bodies are different than they actually are to achieve it?

    I believe Erickson locates the source of the problem in the wrong place. The problem isn't our female bodies. The problem isn't with having breasts that lactate, or breasts that don't. The problem is that we've left lactation, and all sorts of other parental and familial realities, out of bounds in terms of the kinds of bodily and social realities we're willing to recognize and accommodate as a society. The problem isn't biological. It's social.

    Human embodiments are so much more interesting, and multiple, and fluid, and capable, than we've collectively agreed to define them to be--the paradigmatic able-bodied default male person, autonomous and self-sufficient and completely available at all times to his employer with no pesky familial obligations to interfere.

    (I don't actually know anyone like that. Do you?)

    Which bodies are being called upon to conform, in this prescription to tuck the breasts away and reach for the bottle? And conform to what? Any solution pretending to "equity" which requires bodies with wombs and vaginas and lactating breasts to perform more like bodies without those things is a reinscription of male normativity.

    We might as well sign up now for those artificial wombs the transhumanists are so nuts about, so we can opt out of acknowledging female embodiments entirely. With technology's help, we can be just like men! And--bonus!--our boobs will no longer lactate and will simply be sexual objects for the male gaze, like God intended!

    I'd much rather invest in researching some universal lactation pills, or a man-boob.



    Friday, August 16, 2013

    why does it matter?

    There are worse injustices. There are, frankly, horrors that women endure: abuse, rape, slavery, mutilation, poverty without escape, forced sterilization and unwanted pregnancy, and add to the list because it really does just go on and on.

    And fairly often I ask myself, why is it that I spend time on addressing what is, in the light of all this, the slight injustice of the silencing of women in our churches? Maybe I should follow the oft-repeated advice, both friendly and unfriendly, and leave--and work toward alleviating greater injustices elsewhere. Give up, shake the dust off, move on.

    The answer that rises up inside me, every time, is: I can't give up on the Church of Christ. Not yet. I still have the hope, the conviction, that the church can be a force for good in the world, that the church can be a haven and a prophetic voice and a transforming reality. I still believe that the church can be an agent in addressing these injustices and righting them. I believe the church can continue Jesus' work of healing and helping and honoring those who have been hurt and ignored and abused and silenced and forgotten and left in the ash heap with their wounds and sorrow.

    I believe we can. But I don't think we are.

    And I don't think that we can truly address these systemic, chronic, life-threatening abuses--either globally or locally--unless we can hear the voices of women, who can tell us what's really going on.

    And if we don't allow the voices of women to be heard in our assemblies in the worship of God--if we don't allow the voices of women to be heard in our leadership decision processes--if we don't listen to the voices of the women in our own midst... how can we pretend to listen to the voices of women suffering inside and outside the walls of our churches?

    How many of our churches are active on these issues? How many of our churches are concerned with the rampant and ever earlier childhood sexualization of girls and the continuing sexualization of women in US culture? How many of our churches are actively concerned with sexual slavery and poverty? How many of our churches are active partners with local shelters? How many of our churches are viewed as safe places for women in abusive relationships?

    It's not about whether or not women preach from a pulpit, or serve communion, or lead singing. It's about whether or not women's voices and experiences are welcomed, heard, taken seriously--in worship and out. It's about whether or not "women's issues" are issues that the church takes seriously as human rights issues, and what the church is doing to support women who need support and healing and hope.

    If women can't even speak in our churches, where is it that we can be heard?


    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    Why We Call God Father: a response to Simon Chan

    God is the big girl in the sky.

    Simon Chan's article, Why We Call God Father, addresses a topic I regularly think about and discuss as a Christian theologian married to a priest at an Anglo-Catholic parish that employs very traditional liturgical language for God. Though the parish is theologically diverse--it does, after all, include me, a non-Episcopal, stubbornly Church of Christ theologian with an interest in cyborgs--the longstanding identity of the parish as the leading example of Anglo-Catholicism in New Jersey means that you don't mess with the liturgy. You just don't.


    And so every so often, my husband and I delve into the issue of gender-inclusive language in liturgy, and the difficulties of balancing theology and aesthetics and tradition and justice. In fact, a couple nights ago we sat in the living room and prolonged our speeches until midnight. This is how we have fun around here.

    While you might assume, as apparently Simon Chan does, that all self-avowed feminist theologians want to "expunge" all masculine language for God from our worship and Godtalk, that's not my position, nor is it in my experience a dominant and certainly not, as Chan claims, a "unanimous" stance among feminist theologians. If you read, for instance, Elizabeth Johnson, it is clear that her prescription is a multiplicity of language, one which does not expunge masculine language or traditional Trinitarian language, but instead employs it as one way among many others for speaking of God. Chan actually goes on to describe something like this as the proffered feminist solution, which I find confusing. It may be a minor point, but a lead-in which mischaracterizes all of "formal feminist theologians" with a "unanimous" declaration that masculine language "must be expunged" is inaccurate (and worse, inflammatory)--and Chan's own further description seems to indicate that he's aware of this, as a plurality of images including masculine ones is hardly "expunging" the Trinity from our worship. 

    So, I'll be honest; that puts my back up a bit. It's certainly not the best way to start the conversation.

    But, let's set that aside. What's the actual argument offered for the necessity of masculine language for God? Why, as the tag for article in my twitterfeed claims, would calling God something other than Father leave a "void" at the heart of the Christian story?
    I'll leave the biblical text argument to biblical scholars; suffice to say, I'm pretty sure I remember enough of my OT Theology from my MA days to claim with a certain degree of confidence that God was not addressed as "Father" by the Israelites. There's that whole thing with the Tetragrammaton and avoiding saying the name of God, and all that. So when Jesus addressed God as "Abba," that was a pretty innovative shift. 

    Chan makes two things out of this. First, he identifies this Father language by Jesus as a Trinitarian claim, and on this basis implicitly presumes an inherently masculinity of the Trinity itself. Second, he points out that Jesus extends this intimate relationship with God the Father to his disciples.

    With regard to this second point, as Chan points out, the significance of Jesus teaching his disciples to call God "Father" is that "the loving relationship he has with the Father from eternity now extends to those adopted into God's family (Rom 8:15)." I agree with this; my priesthood-of-all-believers CofC background has consistently interpreted this as an indication of relationship with God that provides direct access without the need for priestly mediation. We may directly address God, and address God on intimate terms.

    I'm unsure, however, on what basis Chan makes this further claim: 

    The father-son relationship is the most intimate personal relationship, one marked by reciprocal love and respect, and it is God's supremely personal and loving nature that the term father is meant to underscore.
    Now, I'm neither a father nor a son. So maybe I'm just missing out on the definitively "most intimate personal relationship" in all of creation? Maybe I just don't know what I'm missing, but still...I can't help but pause here and say, um...what?

    I am a mother and a daughter. And a sister. And a friend. And a wife. And all of those relationships have their own intimacy. And if someone forced me to I might make the audacious claim that "the most intimate personal relationship" I've experienced is the one where I carried another person inside my womb for 40+ weeks, and then nursed her for another couple years, and wiped her butt for another after that--and I'm still watching raptly as that tiny body put together inside me keeps growing and changing and maturing and never loses its fascination for me. I might then be tempted to make that experience paradigmatic for intimacy for everyone--but I'd resist that temptation.

    (Other people might want to make the argument that sexual intimacy is the paradigmatic "most intimate personal relationship"--after all, you're putting parts of your body into someone else's body, and stuff, and that's pretty, well, intimate. 
    But I digress.)

    Of course, the problem is not just this incredible and unsupported claim of the unique intimacy of father-son relationality; it's that this is also supposed to be paradigmatic for all people in their relation to God. Jesus relates to God as Father and invites us to relate to God in this way, and so we all relate to God in this supremely unparalleled father-son relationship.

    So now what? Apparently, women are supposed to keep doing what we've always done: mentally write ourselves into masculinity, because we just somehow know after all that we're supposed to be included there:
    To claim, as many feminist theologians do, that the very presence of masculine metaphors for God excludes women simply does not square with the way Scripture uses them. Masculine images of God do not always convey exclusively "masculine" qualities. For example, Isaiah 54:5–7 refers to God as the Husband who with "deep compassion" (a stereotypically "feminine" quality) called estranged Israel back to himself (see also Isa. 49:13). The term father, then, excludes not feminine qualities, but rather the idea of a distant and impersonal deity, which is precisely the picture of the supreme being still seen in many primal religions.
    Let's deconstruct this a bit. First--again!--there's a mischaracterization of feminist theologies here. It's not "the very presence" of masculine metaphors for God that is exclusive. It's the exclusive presence of masculine metaphors for God that is exclusive--and the way that this exclusivity paves the way for the further reification of those masculine metaphors into the non-metaphorical nature of God as Father. Which, not incidentally, is a one-sentence summary of Chan's position in the article.

    Second, I certainly agree that "masculine" and "feminine" qualities are social constructions with very little basis in embodied reality, and we do well not to project those gender constructions onto God--whether as Father or Mother. For Chan, however, this becomes an argument for folding in all "feminine" qualities into the still-masculine Father, and this is somehow supposed to make father-son relationality inclusive of women. I don't quite follow that, so that's my best shot at understanding the argument here.

    Chan also makes the argument that Father implies Creator, and thus that decentering Father language for God implies jeopardizing the Christian doctrine of creation. 
    Second, the father metaphor points to God as the Creator (e.g., Isa. 64:8; Mal. 2:10) "from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name" (Eph. 3:15). Father captures in one word two seemingly contrasting characteristics: God's love for his creatures and his lordship over all creation. Here again, we see the difference between Israel and ancient Near Eastern cultures. In the Judeo-Christian faith, God the Father created the world as something separate from himself, whereas in Near Eastern societies, the mother metaphor pictures the mother-goddess giving birth to the world (which makes it an extension of the deity's body). Calling God Mother undermines the Christian doctrine of creation by implying that God and the world are made of the same stuff and virtually indistinguishable. So, we need Father in order to get to the right doctrine of creation.
    Again we see this working assumption that "Father" exclusively, comprehensively and uniquely captures in one word God's relationality to creatures/creation by signifying both love and lordship. Chan further argues that calling God Mother in relation to creation would necessarily obligate us to ANE cult thealogies (I'm not sure why this would be so) and suggests that the relationship of Mother to creation would be one marked by ontological undifferentiation rather than the proper ontological distance and supremacy indicated by Father and its concomitant notion of "lordship," which is presumed to be obviously orthodox though it remains completely undefined here.

    I can guarantee you that my relationship as Mother to my little creations is marked by all sorts of ontological differentiation. Sometimes in the form of tantrums. And since a distant deity is one of the things Chan points to as problematic that Father language is supposed to uniquely correct, I'm a little confused as to why ontological distance is now suddenly a desirable quality in a deity.

    In the end, Chan rests on something much less like an argument and much more an operative claim: 

    The term Trinity is simply shorthand for the Christian story of God the Father, who sent his Son Jesus Christ and gave us his Holy Spirit. Who is the God that Christians encounter at worship? He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To quote Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the proper name of God. Relating to the triune God is what makes Christian experience truly Christian. Simply using the name God, even with many qualifiers (compassionate, gracious, loving, almighty, and so on), does not sufficiently distinguish the God of Christian revelation from other monotheistic faiths. If we leave out God's nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we risk turning the Christian story into another story.
    In this paragraph it becomes explicitly apparent that the real issue for Chan is not the primacy of the metaphor of Father as the best representation of the relationality of God to Jesus, humanity, and all of creation--despite the attempt to make this argument. The real issue is simply that Father is not a metaphor. It is God's actual ontological identity.

    So it's not about how to best articulate God's relationality within Godself or to creation; it's not about liturgical elegance or faithfulness to tradition or even biblical warrant for Godtalk; it's about who God really is. And it turns out that some people really do think God is a man.

    Friday, August 09, 2013


    For Friday Fun with #imaging #genderjustice in #CofC:

    when I get an email adding another church to the gal328.org list of gender inclusive churches:



    Sunday, July 28, 2013

    Sunday morning media literacy lesson

    So Clare has this little coloring book app on the family iPad. It's a little young for her now at 7 but she still enjoys it. It's full of pictures of fairies and princesses and elves and such.

    This morning she showed me this picture that she'd completed and drawn her own background for. She was most proud of the way she'd drawn the wind and the flower petals blowing through the air, which is totally the best thing about the picture.


    But I also noticed something else. I bet you did too.

    And we had a little chat.

    First I asked her about the fairy in her picture. "She looks teen-agery," was her first response. When I asked her to explain what that meant, she said, "weelllll, I didn't want to say it but she looks, you know, sexy."

    My girl is so savvy. 

    So we talked about what things made this picture sexy. Not that the fairy has a grown-up woman's body, but that the person who drew the picture decided to draw her a certain way: the dress, the pose, the expression on her face.

    Then we looked at these.

    the younger girl version
    Clare was surprised when I said I thought they were a little "sexy" too. It's one kind of inappropriate for a picture you'd expect to see on a truck's mudflaps in a kid's coloring book. It's another, and I think worse, kind of inappropriate to draw children's bodies with sexy overtones.


    Clare didn't see this pose as "sexy," because these pictures weren't "teenagery." That is, these fairies don't have boobs. And I might not have thought so if they weren't so obviously younger versions of the Sexy Fairy above. But that's why it's worse, and more insidious. A grown-up drew these, and made the choices to keep certain features which, on the "teenagery" fairy, are readily identifiable as sexy. The Bratzy bedroom eyes and the pouty full lips. The short skirt and the pose that makes you look right at her almost visible butt.

    the toddler version
    I mean really. The toddler fairy ought to be in a little magic diaper, not a cocktail party dress and mascara. Good grief.

    Not all the choices on this app are this bad. The rest are more ho-hum run-of-the-mill passive-princess bad, but nothing else that's as overtly sexualized as these three. Which means that yes, the people behind the app are aware that it is possible to draw fairy princesses that don't look like they're posing for Playboy. And chose to do it anyway.

    Delete delete delete.

    When I told Clare that I'd be much more interested in a fairy she drew herself she grinned and immediately went to work.

    When she showed me her picture she pointed out proudly that her fairy had a braid and a pretty dress and that she was not at all sexy. Because she's a kid fairy, and kids aren't sexy.



    Saturday, July 27, 2013

    "I don't like your tone, young lady!"

    I follow a lot of people on twitter--people I've found or been connected to through mutual friends or acquaintances--who know a whole lot more than I do about stuff I'm interested in. (If y'all are reading this, you know who you are.) As weird as it may seem, I'm learning immense amounts in 140-character chunks, about theology, gender, feminism, anti-racism, intersectionality...I may have a PhD in Theology and Science but what you really learn in doing a degree is just how much you still don't know. And so my twitterfeed is a constant stream of blessing and wisdom and angry hope.

    More than once recently I've followed exchanges on the issue of "tone policing." I've had my own run-ins with this, of course, as has I bet pretty much anyone who's attempted to participate in a difficult conversation from anything other than a position of privilege relative to the topic.

    Nowadays, however, this issue has more than simply personal resonance with me, as I am so keenly aware of the burden of appropriate "tone" in my representation of an organization that is so much more than simply me. If I miscalculate as JTB, well, I can take responsibility for that as myself. If I miscalculate in representing gal328.org--that's different.

    I've been blogging here at "rude truth" since 2005. And because this thing started--as I've said before--as an exercise in finding my "voice" the archive is in some ways a record of my experimentation in constructing it. And it's not always pretty. I am not a pretty girl.

    I've done some cussing from time to time, is what I mean. The tone police can go wild on my archive.

    While there's nothing I can do--or really want to do--to change any of that, it now feels like a potential liability for gal328.org. And so you'll notice that I've changed some things on the "about" page, to make it clear for everyone that in this space, as JTB, I represent only myself.

    So this forms the context in which I've been following these recent conversations on tone and tone policing. I've been working on the fly, following my instincts, worrying about how to get it right, and these conversations have given me a way to analyze the issue more intentionally.

    In particular, the twitter exchange between Rachel Held Evans and others a couple days ago, following some tone policing in the commentary of the recent CT article on modesty, captures the issues involved and provides a real-time snapshot of a bunch of smart people processing these things together. It prompted me, once more and for at least the fourth time, to try to write this blog post. But before I could get this done in a satisfactory way, I needed a way to process the issue that drew on all the wisdom of my twitterfeed.

    So I made my first story at storify.com: "I don't like your tone, young lady!" And if you've made it this far in this post, good news: the real stuff is there. You need to go read it, because it's there that you'll find the links to the real wisdom on this. Be blessed.

    Friday, July 26, 2013

    women aren't instruments

    I'm not an amen-er.

    Though it is often one of the few exceptions to the otherwise iron-clad rule that women must be silent in the churches of Christ (exceptions are made for singing in our distinctive a capella 4-part harmony and saying "amen"), while I'm an enthusiastic and competent alto, I've never been an amen-er. In my experience, few women are. (The habit of silence runs too deep. Plus, how mortifying it would be to be the only one saying "amen." And, what if someone else thought it was disruptive? The danger of this suddenly becoming sinful and a stumbling block is just too great.)

    Even now, when I've spent years learning to use my voice, and how and when to use it, I find myself inhibited when it comes to the public vocal assent to gospel truth when I hear it.

    This makes the moment I inadvertently amen-ed Claire Davidson Frederick's remark at the Christian Scholars Conference this past June all the more remarkable and personally memorable. That amen was torn out of me, from some deep place in my soul that resides somewhere close to my toenails. It came out of nowhere from the very depths of me, and my own voice surprised me.

    Claire had said, "Please, please, whatever you do, don't put the issue of women in the church in the same context as using instruments in worship."

    And I practically shouted, "Amen! And THANK YOU!" from the back of the room.

    I had never heard this put quite so succinctly before. This is not a "worship issue."

    We've talked about this thing for so long as "women's role in the church," and implicitly defined that for so long as "women's role in public worship," that we've overlooked that we're talking about people, not instruments.

    When we talk about women in the church, we're talking about whether or not women are seen and valued as walking images of God, called to full expression of that image in service to others. If we frame the conversation in terms of "can women do X in worship" parallel to "can we use instruments in worship" then we've already reduced women to a status akin to inanimate objects. Women are not instruments.

    This has an important implication for the way one particular scripture is called upon in our discussions--the one alluded to in the name of the gal328.org site. The interpretation of Galatians 3:28 as a theological benchmark of human equality across social divisions, including gender, is typically refuted in non-egalitarian Churches of Christ by the observation that "this has nothing to do with worship practice."

    And what I want to say, okay--and that's relevant how, exactly?

    Because women aren't instruments. And this is not a "worship issue."

    As a theologian, I read Galatians 3:28 as a sketch of what it means to be redeemed humanity, created in the image of God and called to live out that image in our relationships to each other, within the body of Christ and as ambassadors of Christ to the world. It's not a statement about how to worship. It's a statement about who we are and who we are called to be. If it has anything to do with worship, it's because the way in which we worship ought to reflect our identity as a redeemed humanity and the identity of the God who has made us, called us, and redeemed us.


    Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    I'm not arguing with you.

    Growing up Church of Christ means, among other things, that you soak up a deep love for, respect for, and intimate familiarity with scripture. You learn how to navigate your Bible early, memorize the books of the Old and New Testaments, and I remember well the weekly memory verse and little golden star charts.

    You also learn, as you mature, that taking scripture seriously means digging into the text and thinking through it, analyzing it, applying it logically...and that, at the end of this process, if you've done it right, you've come to the only possible correct conclusion about its meaning and proper application.

    And this means, people who conclude otherwise are just, well, wrong. And they must be argued with, convinced of their wrongness, and persuaded to agree with the correct interpretation of scripture.

    It's important to be right.

    It is this spiritual formation in the Church of Christ that sent me into theological study. I needed to understand, or at least try my very best to understand, what I believed, and if, at the end of my efforts, I could not understand it all, I could release the remainder into mystery with the assurance that it was not simply an easy way out. 

    Along the way, I learned that yes, it is important to be right. It's also not what the eternal fate of my soul depends on, and that's a good thing, because it's a certainty that I've gotten some things wrong, despite my best efforts. It's important to be right--but the stakes are not eternal; they are temporal. They are now. They are other people. They are the church. They are the world.

    And I've learned that, despite my love of a good argument and my enjoyment of the process of analyzing and interpreting texts, that argument is not always the best way to engage others when an interpretation of scripture is at stake.

    And, so, on this matter of the silencing of women in worship and exclusion of women from leadership in Churches of Christ, I'm not arguing. I'm not going to engage in debate with the goal of convincing you that you're wrong to believe what you do and practice what you do and interpret scriptures the way that you do. I'm not going to engage in argument to persuade you that I'm right. I'm just not arguing.

    Instead, I'm inviting. I'm inviting you to reexamine scripture, belief and practice, experience the way God uses the words of women to encourage and instruct and edify, and consider the possibility that despite our best efforts, we get stuff wrong, and sometimes must repent.

    There is nothing to fear from this, and it is my lifelong formation in the Churches of Christ that assures me of this. There is nothing to fear from going back to scripture, with an open, searching spirit, and asking, once again, "what does this mean? what shall we do with this now?" There is nothing to fear from listening to another interpretation, studying another position, and considering it as a real possibility, and making your best judgment. This is why gal328.org has long offered an extensive annotated bibliography of study resources.

    And so I invite you, not to an argument or a defense of your convictions, but to an open search of what God intends for the church, and for the women and men and children within it. And I am certain that God will bless you in it.